Future iPhone, Apple Watch sensors could detect low blood sugar based on body odor alone

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in iPhone
The iPhone or Apple Watch could warn users of dangerous gases in the air or warn diabetics of high or low levels of blood sugar in the future, with Apple considering ways to add the ability for its mobile devices to "smell" the local environment, as well as to detect extremely fine dust particles or pollution.

The Apple Watch's ECG app, used to warn users of potential heart issues
The Apple Watch's ECG app, used to warn users of potential heart issues


Hazardous gases in the air are extremely difficult for humans to detect until it is typically too late, such as with carbon monoxide, a common gas known for being potentially lethal. Short of using a device that can monitor the air nearby, the person simply won't know there is an invisible danger until they either smell or taste it, their skin is irritated, or they feel some other medical symptom.

While there are devices and detectors capable of determining the presence of poisonous gases and alerting the user, they are separate items that most people simply would not feel the need to carry around with them. The ability to slip such functionality into a smartphone or another regularly-used item would give an easily portable warning device that could be widespread and effectively blanket many areas with a level of enhanced safety around gases.

In a pair of patent applications published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, Apple has come up with a few ideas for sensing the air for elements, and alerting the user based on the system's findings.

The first application, titled "Compact Particulate Material Sensor," is more aimed at being able to detect air pollution. Apple notes fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5mu.m is only visible as a haze at elevated levels, but can be easily breathed in and "probably never leave the body," which could exacerbate conditions of respiratory disease.

A conceptual diagram of the particle detection sensor system.
A conceptual diagram of the particle detection sensor system.


Apple's solution is to use a particulate matter sensing device comprised of a light source pulsing light at a specific wavelength, and a number of photodetectors. A thin film filter over the photodetectors is tuned to be transparent to scattered light of a similar wavelength to the pulse, allowing the pulse reflected from particulates to pass through.

A second version also suggests the use of a charge-sensitive electronic circuit that is configured to reject background light, an addition that could allow such a system to reject any false positives caused through externally-sourced light waves that happen to use the same wavelength from being detected.

Apple reckons this system is superior to existing dust particle detector methods that use a pump to blow air into a dark tunnel, which is then hit by an infrared light pulse, with back-scattered light detected and interpreted to provide a result. These sorts of detectors "have a number of shortcomings," and due to requiring an air pump and a hole on the host device, do not lend themselves to be easily integrated into a smartphone or tablet.

The second related patent application, "Systems and Methods for Environment Sensing," which is effectively for the detection of chemicals in the air. While this would be useful for safety applications alone, Apple also suggests the system would use sensors to sense a smell associated with a "chemical species." and when fed into an artificial intelligence engine, could provide "smell recognition capabilities."

The application outlines the use of ionic liquid sensors, tuned to particular ranges, enclosed in a micro electro-mechanical system (MEMS) on a chip. Covered with an air-permeable layer, the chip can also include a heater used to raise the temperatures of the ionic liquid sensors, to reverse any chemical processes and effectively return them to a pre-sensing state for reuse.

An example of a smell-sensing board with multiple sensors.
An example of a smell-sensing board with multiple sensors.


Using multiple sensors with different resistances, the sensors could be used to measure multiple different types of chemicals in the air, or be able to provide some indicator of how much of it is in the air. Alternative versions include the use of an analog multiplexer, a low pass filter, and an analog-to-digital converter for preprocessing signals and to create digital versions.

Though the main concern of the system would be for air safety, the ability to smell could help in other ways, with the application suggesting there could be "spoiled food material detection, body odor detection, and health applications." In one example, a user's sweat could be "smelled" to determine their blood sugar levels, something that would enable a device like an Apple Watch to perform a form of glucose monitoring without relying on direct contact with the user or requiring an embedded sensor in the user's skin.

Apple files numerous patent applications with the USPTO on a regular basis, and while the publication of a filing may be an indicator of areas of interest to the company, there is no guarantee the concepts described will actually make it into a consumer product or service.

This is not the only time Apple has considered adding gas-sensing technology to its devices, as one patent application from January suggested the use of "chemically robust miniature gas sensors" for mobile devices, wearable deices, and smarthome and IoT hardware.

Another December 2016 patent for "Electronic device with speaker enclosure sensor" suggested the use of an environmental sensor within a speaker cavity, an idea that would give the sensor some protection from the elements as well as allowing the natural movement of air via the speaker diaphragm to help the sensor collect samples.

On blood sugar monitoring, Apple has considered the use of a non-invasive system, with an August 2018 patent application suggesting an optics-based version that analyzes the user's skin.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,254member
    This technology has many more future possibilities. Just as many animals, e.g. dogs, can detect trace molecules so can a machine now.  This points the way to the Watch being able to detect many such chemical anomalies in the body's sweat.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 18
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 3,796member
    Any non-invasive  blood glucose reader/detector would be a game changer. I would get one for that reason alone and I am not a watch wearer.

    This is one of the Holy Grails.
    edited April 4 beowulfschmidt
  • Reply 3 of 18
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,506member
    I guess that's an improvement over the original way of detecting high blood sugar: tasting the person's urine.
    ... Physicians have it much easier these days...
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 18
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,711member
    Can it smell fear in my enemies?
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 18
    matrix077matrix077 Posts: 642member
    I guess that's an improvement over the original way of detecting high blood sugar: tasting the person's urine.
    ... Physicians have it much easier these days...
    We should be able to pee on Series 5 and get high blood sugar result.
    edited April 4 watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 18
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,373member
    entropys said:
    Can it smell fear in my enemies?
    More importantly, can it tell my 15 year old son to take a shower after he mows the lawn?  :#

    I guess that's an improvement over the original way of detecting high blood sugar: tasting the person's urine.
    ... Physicians have it much easier these days...
    Totally!

    They have transdermal glucose sensors now. The problem is they measure glucose in the interstitial fluid (the clear fluid between cells,) not the blood. As such it tends to lag the blood glucose some. The mechanism describe here is interesting but it seems that it would lag the true blood glucose levels in the same fashion. Even still, being able to do this and incorporating it into an Apple Watch would be huge. Apple has focused on arrhythmia detection, but diabetes is a much bigger and more insideous problem than heart disease. Having an Apple Watch give an alert that your blood sugars are too high has the ability to significantly speed diagnosis and improve glucose management. 
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 18
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,886member
    See the source image
    Be great if we could get all this into the Watch.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 18
    MplsP said:
    entropys said:
    Can it smell fear in my enemies?
    More importantly, can it tell my 15 year old son to take a shower after he mows the lawn?  :#

    You should be grateful that your 15-year-old mows the lawn.  Good parenting and/or good kid.
    anantksundaramGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 18
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 275member
    The first patent seems counter-intuitive: looking at the picture, it's showing a light shining out of a device's back cover.  So, basically, they want to re-purpose the light that's already used in the Apple Watch to measure heart rate.  But for heart rate measurements, the closer to the skin the light is, the better.  But it's the opposite for measuring gasses in the air!  How will enough gases make their way between the watch's back and your skin?
  • Reply 10 of 18
    BittySonBittySon Posts: 51member
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
  • Reply 11 of 18
    matrix077matrix077 Posts: 642member
    BittySon said:
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
    They can build ECG into a tiny watch .. so?
    SolirandominternetpersonStrangeDaysGeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 18
    tjwolftjwolf Posts: 275member
    BittySon said:
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
    They can't build a charger mat that accommodates 3 different devices, placed in random order & direction.  Point to a company that has successfully made such a device?
    randominternetpersonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 18
    matrix077matrix077 Posts: 642member
    tjwolf said:
    BittySon said:
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
    They can't build a charger mat that accommodates 3 different devices, placed in random order & direction.  Point to a company that has successfully made such a device?
    ..and is very thin. I’m sure that plays an important part to the decision too.
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 18
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,139member
    BittySon said:
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
    It's not that Apple can't build a charging mat, they could, it's that Apple can't build one that meets their high standard. I'd rather see Apple hold off on a product until they can make one that meets their high standards. Apple is seldom first to do anything, but Apple is well known for entering a market later and doing it better and right.
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 18
    realisticrealistic Posts: 1,139member
    BittySon said:
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
    It's not that Apple can't build a charging mat, they could, it's that Apple can't build one that meets their high standard. I'd rather see Apple hold off on a product until they can make one that meets their high standards. Apple is seldom first to do anything, but Apple is well known for entering a market later and doing it better and right.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 18
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,625member
    BittySon said:
    This from a company that can't build a charger mat?  Apple really needs to find its way, and soon.  It starts at the top and the top is focused on all the wrong things.  
    Nuts. Clearly your understanding of tech is suspect. Apple could release a standard charging mat like everyone else, but their product idea was a many-coiled mat with haphazard placement. Nobody has that.

    Apple hasn’t lost its way. Now that new Macs are here what have you to complain about next?
    edited April 4 watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 18
    raysosherraysosher Posts: 3unconfirmed, member
    That's really good news for us and everybody will need an Apple Watch then. I also wanna buy one.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 18
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,624member
    If anyone can crack a non-invasive blood-glucose method it would be Apple.  Should that day arrive and the watch incorporates it, not only will it be a game changer, but Apple will dominate the health industry.

    Thats one thing the Samsungs of the world can’t copy.
    edited April 8 watto_cobra
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